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Ready Meals

Every so often that old chestnut about the propensity towards ready meals diminishing artisan cooking skills rears its head. They wheel out Raymond Blanc or Rick Stein to say how easy it is to make a spaghetti bolognaise using beautiful fresh ingredients ideally straight from the garden. Grabbing a ready meal, reading the instructions and throwing it into the oven for 25 minutes is undoubtedly easier some may say. Convenient also. Tastier? That depends upon your skill. And skill comes from knowing the basics. Learning the rudimentary aspects of any task. Skill sets will be lost if they are not practiced, be they making a roux or taking a photograph. Technology can do it for you but you are in the hands of the manufacturers. You can eat their meals designed in the laboratory, you can create the photograph designed by the wiz kids in Japan or you can make your own. But in order to do that you must have the skills. Knowledge is key. On my workshops for novices, PhotoTreks, most people arrive on auto but soon change to aperture priority where possible and few ever revert back to auto. Even for those with compact cameras, exposure compensation is able to be employed by the end of the day. Why? Because we want to take control. We want the exposure to be our choice. Yes in this digital age we all benefit from technology by viewing the histogram after each image, I do it all the time. But it is an understanding of exposure that enables me to adjust the camera to do what I want. I am an individual with my own mind and views that I want to express in my photographs, which is why I don’t use auto. (I couldn’t anyway as pro cameras don’t have an ‘auto’!)

On a recent workshop in Scotland, one of the clients was using a Hasselblad and she was having trouble with her exposure. It all came down to evaluating the scene and manually ‘weighting’ the exposure according to what was in front of the camera, taking EV readings and adjusting the settings to produce the image she wanted. The lady in question also used a Canon 5DII and transferring those manual skills to the digital age will certainly have helped her create good images. She is a good photographer.

Stood in a Dorset field the other day, taking images for a new project I decided to take the opportunity to test out a new purchase of mine. Yes, it’s a ‘Blad. Going through the long drawn out process of taking an image in the correct sequence - take exposure; set EV; decide on DoF; set aperture; focus; set mirror lock up; withdraw slide; release shutter; re-cock shutter - certainly makes you think about things. You don’t want to make a bolognaise of it. And that’s the point really. Understanding what you are doing and why, to create the image composed , exposed, focused and finally produced, the way you want it. Since I first started photography over 25 years ago, I have always had a film camera. In my car sit’s a manual Nikon with a fast lens in case all else fails. I can’t remember the last time I used it but that’s not the point. I can if I need to. Now I’m not suggesting that everyone goes out and buys a Hasselblad, or any other manual film camera for that matter. If you’ve been on one of my workshops you will already be ahead of the game in understanding the fundamentals of course, with me banging on in your ear about checking the histogram, questioning why that errant bright spot is in the frame or why you have chosen a particular aperture, is bound to make you think and in so doing, increase your knowledge, improve your skill and let you produce the images you want, having visualized them at the outset.

Gaining that skill follows the usual labours, theoretical and practical and it is the practical element that is all important. I wish I had a pound for every one I met who ‘knew’ the fundamentals by reading books, magazines or internet sites, yet it is always the practical but that thwarts them.

At the end of my Newsletters, I always put ‘Keep Practicing -I am’. I mean it. Doing so will make you a better photographer. Understanding the fundamentals enables you to practice even more. A bit like taking a recipe and developing it to your taste. Making it your recipe not Rick Stein’s.

To progress these ramblings further, my distance learning workshop, called Elements due out in August covers the fundamentals of photography for beginners and improvers. The follow on course due out later in the year advances these in a natural progression. Both include theory notes on the various topics with practical exercises for you to undertake as part of the course and submit to me for critique and guidance. Email me if you would like to be one of the first to receive further detail of these courses and improve your photography.

On a further practical level, suited for those that have probably been on a number of my workshops or have a good working knowledge of photography, look out for the new Advanced Workshops to be held at Kimmeridge. Rock pools, rock formations, graphic shapes, working with the light, being creative and finishing with a seascape are all on for the day. These have been designed to test you. Compositionally you will have to work hard; I will push you. Practically you will be pushed, questioned and critiqued to increase your photographic skills with an understanding of exposure to rival most. You will have the opportunity of setting up, composing, evaluating and taking images using the square format Hasselblad, complete with good old Velvia and instant film. I will guide you through this particular process but you will be working by yourself with your own camera for the rest of the time, with me on hand to cajole, push, critique and of course advise where necessary.

Email me to be kept informed of the next available course.